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IBM unveils Opteron workstation

Big Blue takes the wraps off the IntelliStation A Pro, the latest computer to use AMD's 64-bit capable chip.

IBM on Tuesday unveiled a workstation based on Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron chip that's designed to help customers manage larger files and more engineering data.

Big Blue plans to begin shipping the 64-bit-capable machine, called IntelliStation A Pro, in May. Workstations are high-end desktops used for financial modeling and computer animation.

IBM believes that the AMD chip provides a mix of good capabilities and price for companies that wish to use 64-bit CAD (computer aided design) or engineering analysis software to create products, said Bob Lenard, director of IBM's IntelliStation products. The company first discussed plans to offer the Opteron workstation last year.

The Opteron chip can run 32-bit software--the kind found on most desktops today--or 64-bit software, which until now has been found mainly on high-end Unix machines. One of the main advantages of stepping up to 64 bits is that it allows a computer to use more than 4GB of RAM (random access memory), the current limit on 32-bit machines.

"One of the things we'd been looking at was a need for 64-bit computer power, especially in the...Windows and Linux space," Lenard said.

Some computer-generated product models, for example, use up 4GB of memory when shown in their entirety. Thus, the step up to the IntelliStation A Pro and 16GB of RAM makes sense, he said.

IBM felt that there would be sizable demand for the IntelliStation A Pro from customers who use the Unix operating system and wish to migrate to cheaper Linux hardware as well as those who seek to step up from inexpensive 32-bit hardware to more capable 64-bit gear.

The price of the IntelliStation A Pro will start at about $2,600. However, customers are likely to order versions of the machine that cost between $5,000 and $8,000, after adding large amounts of memory, extra hard drive capacity and high-performance graphics cards, Lenard said.

Customers can order the machine with Microsoft's Windows XP operating system or a 64-bit version of Red Hat's Linux operating system. A 64-bit version of Windows for Opteron is still in the works, so Windows customers must start off with 32 bits and upgrade later. A 64-bit version of Windows XP for Opteron is expected later this year.

Fujitsu-Siemens markets a similar Opteron workstation in Europe. Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems both have adopted the Opteron chip in servers. IBM also offers the Opteron in a server.

The company will sell the Opteron IntelliStation A Pro alongside its Intel-based IntelliStations, the M Pro and IntelliStation Z Pro. It also plans to offer workstations with Intel's forthcoming 64-bit Xeon chips.